Jim in the Three Sisters Wilderness

I hiked into the east side of this wilderness area twice in the 80s for totally different reasons. The first trip was in July 1981 on a hastily-planned vacation that included climbing 10300-foot South Sister. I pulled in to the trailhead near Sparks Lake late on a hot afternoon, hoisted my pack and trudged directly uphill via a dry creek-bed, totally unsure if I was following the route. I emerged on a high plateau well after sunset, with South Sister silhouetted to my north and no sign of a trail anywhere. It was a beautiful night, though, so I unrolled my bag on the flats and slept under the stars.

When I awoke I felt pretty uncomfortable - no surprise since I drove from sea level to 4500 feet and hiked to 6000 or more - so I decided to find the trail and take a scenic walk back to the car instead of climbing the mountain alone. I soon found the trail and descended to Moraine Lake, which sat in the early daylight without a ripple to mar the reflection of the glacial moraine behind the lake and South Sister looming behind. I then headed east past lava flows to the Green Lakes trail, which was beautiful beyond words. I reached the car around noon and voted for a flyfishing and car-camping vacation instead. It all sounds so painless now, after all these years, but that was a hellish vacation choice that went something like this: I bought beer, drank some, inflated my rubber raft, found the seal was missing, cast my fly from shore only to have the pole break on the first cast, drink some more, gave up and drove to the coast, set up camp in a rainstorm, awoke drenched and discovered my car battery was dead. After all that I was pleasantly surprised when the film came back, because even now I can say that two of my best photographs ever taken were from that trip.

In 1988 I returned to the area, this time with astronomy in mind. The Perseid meteor shower was upon us, and I thought a high-elevation camp would make for great horizons and dark skies. I again traveled up the Green Lakes trail, passing the 1981 junction and passing into a wonderland of natural beauty. The roaring creek became smaller as I moved up the valley, then fell silent as the trail did some serious climbing away from the stream. I returned to the water by some silent rapids flowing from a lava-dammed pool and stood enchanted. A deer waded across the pool to the far side and turned to watch me. A hummingbird hummed through the wildflowers on the near bank on its way upstream. It was perfectly natural, beyond even Walt Disney's grasp. After that the Green Lakes were anti-climactic, and I pushed past them to the high saddle between South Sister and Broken Top where I stopped for a long rest. I had spoken with my brother of my planned camp, and he sounded interested in meeting me for a trip up to Chambers Lakes high on the north side of South Sister, so I waited hopefully - and in vain - for his arrival. I also watched carefully as thunderheads formed and drifted north along the eastern horizon. They stayed well away from my area, however, so I picked out a campsite on rough lava to ensure that I would not fall asleep during the meteor shower's best hours. (Sadly, my sister chose a spot to my east to see the show, and those same clouds removed her view of the stars that night).

It was a crisp, black night with stars beyond count. The Andromeda galaxy was so bright that it was distracting my meteor-watching when it found the corner of my vision. The Perseids put on a great show that night, and my random naps were short-lived on the hard rock. Several times the ground lit up as if by a strobe-light, and I traced my shadow back to where a faintly glowing trail still remained from the incinerated pebble that picked my piece of sky to show off. As the sky brightened I shifted to softer soil for a few hours' rest, then reluctantly packed up and returned to the beauty of the Green Lakes trail.
Postscript - On my way through Bend I discovered the recently-opened Deschutes Brewery. After the hike I pulled up in front of the brewery, emptied my hiking bottles and refilled with Bachelor Bitter to take back to Portland. Good thing I acquired no bugs in the water to contaminate the beer, or this might not be my favorite flavor even now, ten years after! Don't ever pass through Bend without visiting this place!

additional trip in 2004!